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Oceania, New Caledonia

New Caledonia and Dependencies, overseas territory of France, situated in the southwestern Pacific Ocean, east of Australia. The territory comprises the island of New Caledonia and a number of smaller islands and island groups. The dependencies include the Loyalty Islands, east of New Caledonia; the Isle of Pines, to the southeast; the Chesterfield Islands, to the west; and the Huon Islands, to the northwest. The total area is 19,103 sq km (7,376 sq mi). The population (2002 estimate) is 207,858, yielding an average density of 11 persons per sq km (28 per sq mi). About 43 percent of the population is composed of Melanesians (Kanaks), and about 37 percent is European, mainly French, (Caldoches); the remaining inhabitants include Vietnamese, Polynesians, and Indonesians. The capital, largest city, and main port of the territory is Noumea (1989 population, 65,110). Most of the inhabitants are Christian, predominantly Roman Catholic. In 1994 about 22,000 students were enrolled in primary school, and another 26,000 were enrolled in secondary school.

The economy of New Caledonia is based on a variety of activities: agriculture (copra, coffee, and food crops); stock raising; fishing and forestry; tourism; and, most important, mining (especially nickel, iron, and manganese ores). Annual production of nickel ore in the late 1980s was 2.8 million metric tons. Manufacturing industries, mainly food processing and metallurgy, are being developed. Major exports are unprocessed minerals and refined nickel. Chief imports are petroleum products, coal, coke, machines, and electrical equipment. The unit of currency is the CFP franc, consisting of 100 centimes (129.44 CFP francs equal U.S.$1; 2000 annual average).

The island of New Caledonia was sighted in 1774 by British navigator Captain James Cook, who gave it the Roman name for Scotland. It was annexed by France in 1853 and was organized as an overseas territory in 1946. In July 1984 the French parliament passed legislation providing for internal autonomy, and territorial elections were held in 1985. Two years later, New Caledonians voted to remain part of France in an election largely boycotted by Melanesians. After violent outbreaks by Melanesian separatists, France in 1989 introduced a new system of administration. The territory was divided into three provinces, each with an elected assembly; together the three assemblies comprise the 54-member Territorial Congress. An appointed high commissioner represents the French government, and New Caledonia elects two deputies and one senator to the French parliament.

In 1998 voters in New Caledonia approved an agreement established by French officials and the territory's major political parties to give New Caledonia more autonomy from France and to delay a referendum on independence for at least 15 years. Under the agreement, New Caledonia will gradually gain control over policies such as taxation, trade, transportation, and communications. France will maintain control over New Caledonia's defense, as well as its police and legal systems.

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